Tahoe Chief’s Corner: Check your heat tape for fire hazards | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Chief’s Corner: Check your heat tape for fire hazards

Mike Brown
Special to the Sun

Mike Brown

With more snow in the forecast and what we can do to be prepared, it's a good time to check our roofs and roof gutters to ensure they are clear of debris and pine needles.

If you have heat tape, please make sure it's working properly and free of accumulated debris and pine needles as well.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges homeowners who use heat tapes or pipe heating cables to protect exposed water and drain pipes from freezing, to inspect the tapes or cables annually for possible fire hazards.

Homeowners who are wary of checking sub-structure heat tapes and cables should consider turning the job over to a licensed electrician.

Annual inspections of heat tapes or pipe heating cables are necessary to detect any possible fire hazards. Unplug the heat tape or cable and then check the entire length or the tape or cable.

The plastic insulation of the heat tape or heating cable should be checked carefully. If bare wires are exposed or any cracks, cuts, breaks or signs of charring or discoloration are found in the plastic insulation, the tape or cable should be replaced immediately.

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Some heat tapes are plugged in year-round and are activated by a thermostat when the outdoor temperature approaches freezing. In other situations, homeowners plug in the tapes and unplug them in the spring.

CPSC offers the following additional safety tips for heat tapes or cables:

1: Replace uncertified heat tapes more than 3 years old with new heat tapes certified to meet recognized voluntary standards. All new heat tapes have a 3-prong plug. Always plug the 3-prong plug into a 3-prong grounded outlet to make sure the heat tape is grounded. Plug heat tapes into an outlet protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).

2: Buy the proper tape/cable. Know the diameter and length of the pipe to be protected. Then buy the heat tape recommended for that size and length of pipe by the manufacturer.

3: Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing the tape or cable. Tape should not be lapped over itself around the pipe, unless this is specifically permitted in the manufacturer's instructions. Do not use heat tapes or heating cables for any use other than that recommended by the manufacturer.

4: Heat tapes or cables should be wrapped directly over the pipe to be protected, never on top of thermal insulation covering a pipe.

5: Don't cover heat tape/cable with insulating materials unless permitted by the manufacturer. If insulation is permitted, it must be a non-flammable insulating material such as fibrous glass. Never use more insulation than recommended by the manufacturer. Over-insulation can cause a fire.

According to the CPSC, an estimated 3,300 residential fires involving heat tapes or cables occur each year. These fires result in 20 deaths, 150 injuries and $27 million in property losses each year.

In many cases, improperly installed tapes or heating cables cause the fires. Do your part to be one step ahead of the game and not be included in these statistics. For more information please visit cpsc.gov.

"Chief's Corner" is a regular feature in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza from North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Mike Brown, offering information, tips and education material on fire safety, emergency preparedness and other pertinent topics.